2011 Best in Kentucky
It’s become a tradition. Each year, hundreds of readers vote for their favorite Kentucky people, places, and things in our Best in Kentucky issue. We keep things interesting by mixing up the categories a bit each year. You offer some surprises with your votes and keep us on our toes with lots of close races. Often, there is only a vote or two between first and second place.
This year, we increased the number of categories and added some fun facts about the winners. We hope you learn a little about our Commonwealth and take the time to enjoy all things Kentucky.
Red River Gorge
With its rugged beauty, the Red River Gorge is a natural choice for camping. Both primitive and RV camping are available at Koomer Ridge Campground, which is open year-round. Koomer Ridge has 54 camping sites with running water, and flush toilets are also available during recreation season. The Red River Gorge, a part of the Daniel Boone National Forest, has some 90 miles of hiking trails through terrain made of sandstone cliffs and exposed limestone rock faces. Info: call the Gladie Center, (606) 663-8100; in winter, (606) 663-0576. Or go online to www.fs.fed.us/r8/boone and click on “Red River Gorge Geological Area” in text.
Bet you didn’t know: The Red River Gorge has an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. It is home to 750 flowering plants and 170 species of moss.
SECOND PLACE – Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley
THIRD PLACE – Cave Run Lake, Morehead
Golf Digest has rated Old Silo in Mt. Sterling the number-one public course in Kentucky for the past 10 years, and this year Kentucky Living readers did as well. All the elements that give the course its striking beauty—rolling hills, the rambling Somerset Creek, 95 white sand bunkers—also provide plenty of challenge. Four sets of tees welcome golfers of all abilities to this 18-hole championship course designed by Champions Tour player Graham Marsh. Info: (859) 498-4697 or www.oldsilo.com.
Bet you didn’t know: There actually is an old silo on the course. It is located on hole #6 but can be seen from several holes.
SECOND PLACE – Boots Randolph Golf Course, Cadiz
THIRD PLACE – Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park Golf Course, Burkesville
This bustling town offers a multiple-choice experience for visitors: Beech Bend Park and Splash Lagoon (amusement park, drag strip, oval track, water park, and campgrounds), the GM Corvette Assembly Plant and National Corvette Museum (watch the classic sports car being made and learn its history), Lost River Cave and Valley (tours and underground boat rides), the Kentucky Museum (large collection of Kentucky artifacts), Russell Sims Aquatic Center (water park), Western Kentucky University (myriad activities open to the public), Historic RailPark and Train Museum (go aboard a historic train), Fountain Square Park (historic fountains downtown), and Aviation Heritage Park (restored planes of regional aviators). Bowling Green is also only 20 miles from Mammoth Cave National Park and a short drive from Dinosaur World, Kentucky Down Under, and Diamond Caverns. Tourism info: (270) 782-0800, (800) 326-7465, or www.visitbgky.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Bowling Green is now home to a minor league baseball team—the Bowling Green Hot Rods.
SECOND PLACE – Mammoth Cave National Park
THIRD PLACE – Lake Barkley State Resort Park, Cadiz
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave. More than 390 miles of passageway have been mapped to date, with more still being discovered. It is so long that if the second and third longest caves in the world were joined together, Mammoth Cave would still be the planet’s longest and have nearly 100 miles left over. Visitors can explore the cave 364 days a year (closed December 25) through a variety of ranger-guided tours that vary in length from one hour to more than six. Info: (270) 758-2180 or www.nps.gov/maca.
Bet you didn’t know: Mammoth Cave is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and the core area of an International Biosphere Reserve. Both awards recognize the cave for its natural, cultural, and historic resources.
SECOND PLACE – Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley
THIRD PLACE – Louisville
BOATING LAKE OR RIVER
The largest U.S. lake by volume east of the Mississippi River currently offers more than 37,000 surface acres of water to explore. Lake Cumberland is also a deep lake known for its fishing—especially stripers, white bass, yellow perch, sauger, and brown and rainbow trout. In fact, Lake Cumberland holds a state record for the largest striper caught in Kentucky; the fish weighed in at 58 lbs., 4 oz. Fishing info: (606) 678-8697, www.lakecumberland.com, www.lakecumberlandtourism.com, or www.lakecumberlandvacation.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Lake Cumberland holds a Guinness World Record for the largest raft-up (boats tied together). Some 1,651 boats participated.
SECOND PLACE – Cave Run Lake, Morehead
THIRD PLACE – Lake Barkley
Natural Bridge is aptly named. It took millions of years for nature to form the natural sandstone arch. In addition to exploring this natural wonder, visitors can take a ride on the sky lift in season (April 1-October 31), which ends within 600 feet of the bridge; hike 10 trails that range from 1/2 mile to 7-1/2 miles; relax in the lodge, a cottage, or at a campground site; and swim in the pool. Info: (606) 663-2214 or www.parks.ky.gov/findparks/resortparks/nb.
Bet you didn’t know: The Kentucky Legislature designated Natural Bridge State Resort Park as the clogging capital of Kentucky. There have been dances on Hoedown Island, a natural open-air dance patio, for more than 60 years. These continue today with square dancing, line dancing, clogging, and folk dancing. Check park’s Web site for a schedule.
SECOND PLACE – Cumberland Falls, Corbin
THIRD PLACE – Lake Barkley
You don’t have to go far in Cadiz to find antiques of all kinds. That’s no doubt why this western Kentucky community won first place in the ultra-competitive antiquing category. Six antique shops and malls can be found within a two-block area on Main Street, including Blue Moon Antiques, Loose Treasures, Cranberry Creek Rustics (primitives), Cherokee Antique Mall, Miz Malva’s, and Cadiz Antique Mall. The stores also participate in the 400-mile yard sale down Highway 68/80 on the first full weekend in June. Info: (270) 522-3892 or www.gocadiz.com.
Bet you didn’t know: You’ll find lots of decorated concrete pigs outside the antique stores and at the entrances to many shops. The pigs are in honor of Trigg County Country Ham Festival, held the second full weekend in October in Cadiz.
SECOND PLACE – Glendale
THIRD PLACE TIE – Berea; Smiths Grove
HOTEL/INN/BED & BREAKFAST
Tie: Lake Barkley State Resort Park and Galt House Hotel & Suites
They both edge bodies of water but otherwise your two choices in this category might seem to have little in common. They are on opposite sides of the state. One is a private hotel. The other is a state park. One is in Kentucky’s largest metro area, Louisville. The other is in a quiet hamlet. But on deeper reflection they have much in common, including excellent customer service and special Kentucky places to get away for a week or a weekend. Galt House info: (502) 589-5200 or www.galthouse.com. Lake Barkley SRP info: (270) 924-1131, (800) 325-1708, or www.parks.ky.gov/findparks/resortparks/lb.
Bet you didn’t know: The Galt House was green long before it was cool to protect the environment. Back in 1982, a geothermal system was installed in the east tower as it was being built. In terms of Lake Barkley State Resort Park, we bet you didn’t know the lodge at Lake Barkley is the largest wooden structure east of the Mississippi and there are 3-1/2 acres of glass in the dining room alone.
SECOND PLACE – Carter Caves State Resort Park, Olive Hill
THIRD PLACE TIE – Historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant of Berea College, Berea; Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
What shapes a person? America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, was no doubt influenced by his early years at Sinking Spring Farm in Hodgenville. Today, visitors to the farm can see an early 19th-century Kentucky cabin that symbolizes the one in which Lincoln was born. The humble cabin is enshrined inside a formal neo-classical building at the site of his birth. Visitors can also see the site of a white oak tree that served as the boundary marker for property lines, and other reminders of the president who on January 1, 1863, issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared all slaves forever free within the Confederacy. Info: (270) 358-3137 or www.nps.gov/abli/index.htm.
Bet you didn’t know: There are 56 steps leading up to the memorial, representing the 56 years of Lincoln’s life. Inside the memorial there are 16 rosettes on the ceiling, which represent the fact that Lincoln was America’s 16th president.
SECOND PLACE – My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Bardstown
THIRD PLACE – Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Park
With more than 800,000 guests each year, it’s not surprising that the Louisville Zoo took top honors this year as the most kid-friendly place. What you may not know is that there are nearly 400 species to see at the zoo and it’s open year-round. It takes 133 full-time and 24 part-time employees to keep all the attractions going throughout the zoo’s 152 acres. This month, the polar and grizzly bear portion of Glacier Run opens. You’ll be able to view the massive polar bears above, at, and below the water in their new exhibit. Info: (502) 459-2181 or www.louisvillezoo.org.
Bet you didn’t know: The Louisville Zoo is among a few zoos and aquariums nationwide that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
SECOND PLACE – Evans Orchard & Cider Mill, Georgetown
THIRD PLACE – Newport Aquarium
LOCAL PERFORMING ARTS SITE
The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
It’s located in Louisville, but The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts is a part of every community in Kentucky through its educational programs, which bring the arts to dozens of community centers, showcases, institutes, and all of Kentucky’s educational regions. On the home stage, The Kentucky Center offers an eclectic mix of music, dance, and theater. It is home to the Louisville Orchestra, Kentucky Opera, Louisville Ballet, Stage One, KentuckyShow!, and PNC Bank Broadway Across America–Louisville, as well as a host of community theaters and Kentucky Center Presents performances. The Kentucky Center also offers the Governor’s School for the Arts in Lexington. Info: (502) 584-7777, (800) 775-7777, or www.kentuckycenter.org.
Bet you didn’t know: In 1984, the first presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale was held in Whitney Hall.
SECOND PLACE THREE-WAY TIE – Mountain Arts Center, Prestonsburg; Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, Renfro Valley; and Gateway Regional Arts Center, Mt. Sterling
THIRD PLACE TIE – RiverPark Center, Owensboro; Capital Arts Center, Bowling Green
“We play bluegrass, that’s all we play,” says band leader Anthony Taylor, although he adds that their sound is “not traditional.” The four members came together in 1998 from other bands where they had been playing bluegrass and gospel most of their lives. Some had even played with professional bands. Today the band is working on a new CD, which will be out this spring. It will join their two others, Future of the Past and Imitation of the Blues. Each year, the band hosts the Blazin’ Bluegrass Festival. Go online to www.blazinbluegrass.com for more information on the festival.
Bet you didn’t know: All the members of Kentucky Wind learned to play music from their parents, and now they are teaching their children to play as well.
SECOND PLACE – Ricky Skaggs
THIRD PLACE – Bill Monroe
October Court Days
It is always the third Monday in October, and includes the weekend prior. If you are anywhere near Mt. Sterling, you won’t need a calendar to tell that it’s October Court Days. The annual festival marks what was traditionally the last trading day for much of eastern Kentucky. Now as many as 130,000 people (only 7,100 of them residents) flock to town to trade, buy, and sell everything from tools to antiques to handmade crafts. The four-day celebration runs from the Friday before and through the Monday of Court Day. Info: (859) 498-8732 or www.mtsterlingtourism.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Live bluegrass music is back at the festival. Musicians perform on the Bluegrass Sound Stage all day Saturday and Sunday.
SECOND PLACE – Trigg County Country Ham Festival, Cadiz
THIRD PLACE – Blazin’ Bluegrass Festival, McCreary County
Elk Creek Vineyards
Kentucky’s largest vineyard, Elk Creek in Owenton, just celebrated its fourth anniversary. The northern Kentucky vineyard offers 30 labels. In addition, they also provide an experience at their vineyard, including lodging, massage service, an art gallery, a hunt club that offers sporting clays and upland bird hunting in season, and a summer concert series with live entertainment every Friday and Saturday. Info: (502) 484-0005 or www.elkcreekvineyards.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Elk Creek Vineyards produces six estate wines (wines grown and produced on property). Look for their seventh—an estate Vidal Blanc—this spring.
SECOND PLACE – Talon Winery & Vineyards, Shelbyville and Lexington
THIRD PLACE – Acres of Land Winery, Richmond
In November 1986, Neil Van Uum opened the first Joseph-Beth store in Lexington. The original store began with 37,000 titles in a 6,500-square-foot space. Expansions and renovations increased the store to more than 45,000 square feet on two stories. In addition to books, Joseph-Beth offers all manner of local products, including local food, candy, art, Keeneland merchandise, and now items from Maker’s Mark. Although bookstores are struggling today and Joseph-Beth is no exception, as they work their way through a financial reorganization, the bookseller continues to give back. Since 2007, Joseph-Beth has donated $150,000 to community partners through their Give Back program. If you are a member, a percentage of every purchase goes to the community partner you designate. Info: (859) 273-2911 or www.josephbeth.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Joseph-Beth has 120 author events every year. They also conduct in-school book fairs and give 20 percent of profits back to the participating school.
SECOND PLACE – CoffeeTree Books, Morehead
THIRD PLACE – Poor Richard’s Books, Frankfort
Want to see “America’s sports car” being created? At the General Motors Corvette Plant in Bowling Green, you can watch the process in a one-mile walking tour, which includes welding the steel structure, adding parts in the trim and chassis departments, joining the chassis and body, and driving off the end of the line. Across the street, go to the National Corvette Museum to learn the history and more of this fabled car, which is only produced in Kentucky. Info: (270) 745-8019 or www.bowlinggreenassemblyplant.com.
Bet you didn’t know: The base model Corvette with a manual transmission gets 26 miles per gallon on the highway.
SECOND PLACE – Ale-8-One, Winchester
THIRD PLACE – Maker’s Mark, Loretto
He is perhaps best known for “Snow Flakes,” but Fred Thrasher of Bronston has made more than 200 prints since 1968 when he started painting with oils. He released his first print in 1977. Thrasher’s talent is natural and, other than a correspondence course from the Washington School of Art, he has no formal training. Nature scenes and historical landmarks are what he loves to paint the most. Info: (606) 561-8767 or www.thrasherprints.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Thrasher once worked for Farm Bureau Insurance as an agent in Albany. In 1977, he quit his job and gave himself two years to see if he could make it as an artist. Although he thought he had made a mistake the first six months, Thrasher succeeded and has never looked back.
SECOND PLACE – John Ward, Mt. Sterling
THIRD PLACE – Warren A. May, Berea
Mayor Jerry Abramson
Jerry Abramson served as Louisville’s mayor for 21 years, and was the first mayor in the city’s history to serve three consecutive terms. Leaving office recently this January, he is credited with numerous accomplishments. In 2000, he was one of the primary leaders of the campaign to merge the governments of Louisville and Jefferson County. Abramson collaborated with Dan Jones and 21st Century Parks to create the “City of Parks,” a public-private partnership to add 4,000 acres of suburban parkland. He initiated the 100-mile Louisville Loop Trail, and was a leader in the development of Waterfront Park. Under his leadership, UPS came to town and made a $2.5 billion investment in airport expansion, resulting in 25,000 new jobs and 146 businesses coming to the region.
Bet you didn’t know: Abramson is now an executive-in-residence at Bellarmine University, where he teaches courses on leadership and civics as well as metropolitan communities and their futures.
SECOND PLACE – U.S. Representative, Fifth District, Hal Rogers, Somerset
THIRD PLACE TIE – U.S. Senator Rand Paul, Bowling Green; Judge Executive Mike Buchanon, Bowling Green
KENTUCKY TV PERSONALITY
“The best thing about my job is meeting people and doing something different every day,” says WHAS TV personality Kelsey Starks. “I never know where I’ll be or who I’ll meet by the end of the day…I’ve learned that everyone has a story to tell.” An Owensboro native, Starks worked in New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Charleston, South Carolina, before returning to Kentucky, where she and her husband wanted to raise their daughter. “The trips home became more frequent and the time in between seemed slower. I eventually found I missed things I never thought I would—swimming pools, backyard barbecues, long talks on the back porch, and old friends who bring on the best belly laughs (and a good Keeneland/UK game weekend can’t be beat!).” Info: (502) 582-7711 or www.WHAS11.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Starks’ love for broadcasting began around age 4 when her dad—a DJ at a local radio station—let her go to work with him. “He would sit me in a booth with a microphone and an eight-track deck where I would record my own ‘show,’” she says. “I still have some of the tapes.”
SECOND PLACE – Diane Sawyer, ABC News
THIRD PLACE – George Clooney, and on the heels of third place... KET’s and our very own Dave Shuffett
The late poet laureate of Kentucky, Jesse Hilton Stuart published 2,000 poems, 460 short stories, and more than 60 books. He was one of Appalachia’s best-known and most anthologized authors. Stuart was also a far-sighted conservationist. He deeded almost 700 acres of his land to the Kentucky nature preserve system so everyone could enjoy the land that inspired his writing. Info: (606) 326-1667, (800) 504-0209, or www.jsfbooks.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Dr. James Gifford has published a new biography about Stuart. It is entitled Jesse Stuart: An Extraordinary Life. The 480-page book looks at the man himself in addition to his work, and includes numerous never-published photographs.
SECOND PLACE – David Dick
THIRD PLACE TIE – Silas House; Wendell Berry
Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
For the second year in a row, you chose Moonlite Bar-B-Q in Owensboro as your favorite barbecue. Manager Pat Bosley says it’s the “family touch” that makes it so good. “We’re on our fourth generation of family working here,” he says. “Barbecue is nothing but hard work. It takes 12 hours to cook mutton, for example.” That attention to detail couples with a great atmosphere to make a memorable experience, according to Bosley. “It’s not just the food but also the atmosphere and how you are treated,” he adds. “We treat our customers like friends and family. We’re lucky to bring it all to the table.” Info: (800) 322-8989 or www.moonlite.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Although family owned and operated, Moonlite Bar-B-Q has 140 employees. Moonlite also has a USDA processing facility from which they sell wholesale barbecue to other restaurants and stores.
SECOND PLACE – Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q, four Kentucky locations
THIRD PLACE – Old Hickory Pit Bar-B-Q, Owensboro
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
The 600th Cracker Barrel restaurant opened at the end of March in Frankfort, totaling 30 locations in Kentucky. Designed to look like old-fashioned country stores, the walls of each Cracker Barrel are decorated with items you might have once found in a country store. Ever wonder where all that stuff comes from? Interestingly, all the old toys, photos, tools, signs, utensils, and advertisements are original antiques, and each location has a collection unlike any other. Cracker Barrel researches the background of the area, and fits the décor to the area. Larry Singleton, son of the couple who decorated the first store, then coordinates all the acquisitions. Info: www.crackerbarrel.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Cracker Barrel sold 122 million slices of bacon last year. The restaurants also served 11 million orders of Chicken ‘N’ Dumplins. Every day, the restaurant chain serves more than 750,000 biscuits.
SECOND PLACE – IHOP Restaurant, five Kentucky locations
THIRD PLACE – Cadiz Family Restaurant, Cadiz
Papa John’s Pizza
The papa behind Papa John’s Pizza is John Schnatter, Louisville. After earning a business degree from Ball State University, Schnatter, then 22, knocked down the broom closet of his father’s tavern (Mick’s Lounge), purchased $1,600 worth of used restaurant equipment, and began delivering pizzas out of the back of the bar. In 1984, Schnatter opened his first Papa John’s restaurant, and today Papa John’s owns or franchises more than 3,500 restaurants in all 50 states and in 29 countries. Info or pizza orders: papajohns.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Papa sold more than 1 million pizzas (that’s 8 million slices!) on Super Bowl Sunday.
SECOND PLACE – Pizza Hut
THIRD PLACE – Giovanni’s, eastern Kentucky
The Whistle Stop
The husband and wife team of Mike and Lynn Cummins own and run this restaurant located in historic Glendale, just outside Elizabethtown. Their traditional Southern cuisine, such as cheese-covered hot browns, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, and their best-seller, meatloaf, makes this restaurant a favorite with Kentucky Living readers. Save room for dessert: The Whistle Stop has won awards and many accolades for its pies. Info: (270) 369-8586 or www.whistlestopky.com.
Bet you didn’t know: Cooks at the Whistle Stop still make most dishes from scratch.
SECOND PLACE – Patti’s 1880s Settlement, Grand Rivers
REGIONAL HOSPITAL/MEDICAL CENTER
Saint Joseph Health System
The Saint Joseph Health System includes Flaget Memorial Hospital in Bardstown; Saint Joseph–London; Saint Joseph–Martin; Saint Joseph Hospital and Saint Joseph East in Lexington; Saint Joseph–Berea; Saint Joseph–Jessamine, and Saint Joseph–Mt. Sterling. Collectively, the hospitals have 1,012 licensed beds, approximately 5,000 employees, and around 1,300 physicians on the medical staffs. Combined, the facilities have received an array of awards, including being recognized 18 times as being among the 100 Top Hospitals in the nation by Thomson Reuters. Info: (859) 313-1000 or www.saintjosephhealthsystem.org.
Bet you didn’t know: In 2009, there were 3,597 babies born at Saint Joseph hospitals.
SECOND PLACE – University of Kentucky HealthCare, Lexington
THIRD PLACE – Central Baptist Hospital, Lexington
Congratulations to these five lucky readers who each win $100, drawn at random from those who voted in Kentucky Living’s 2011 Best in Kentucky contest.
THOMAS LORIMER, Jackson, member of Licking Valley RECC
MELISSA NOEL, Cadiz, member of Pennyrile Electric Cooperative
BETH O'HAIR, Irvine, member of Jackson Energy Cooperative
JERRY PENNINGTON, Whitley City, member of South Kentucky RECC
JEFF PIERCE, Sandy Hook, member of Grayson RECC